First Look at North Korea’s New Hwasong-17 ICBM Launch: Built to Deliver Nuclear Strikes to Cities Across America

In the early hours of March 25 North Korea released the first images of its first ever test launch of the Hwasong-17 intercontinental range ballistic missile, which marks its first launch of a missile capable of striking the United States mainland since November 2017 when it imposed moratorium on such testing. The launch was conducted to “ensure the scientific and technical reliability of [Hwasong-17’s] prompt operation under the wartime condition,” and saw the missile fly far in to space to a 6250km altitude before descending to 1000km from its launch location. 

Regarding the unusual trajectory, which is intended to avoid violating the airspace of neighbouring countries while still demonstrating the full range of an ICBM, an official statement confirmed: “The intercontinental ballistic missile was test-fired vertically in consideration of the security of the neighbouring states.” The Hwasong-17 is the third North Korean intercontinental range design to be test fired successfully, following the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 which were first launchd in July and November of 2017 respectively. 

The former could strike cities across the east coast of the United States while the latter could strike cities across the entire American mainland. The Hwasong-17 is expected to improve on this by being able to strike with multiple warheads. 

Attending the launch, which took place north of the capital Pyongyang, Chairman Kim Jong Un of the ruling Korean Workers' Party commented: “It is necessary to make clear that whoever tries to infringe upon the security of our state shall pay dearly. Our state defence capability will make thorough preparations for long confrontation with U.S. imperialism on the basis of the tremendous military technical force unflinching even to any military threat and blackmail.” 

The Korean leader added that the “Strategic Force of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - the official name of North Korea] is fully ready to thoroughly check and contain any dangerous military attempt of the U.S. imperialists,” and that “the new strategic weapon of the DPRK will clearly show the might of our strategic force to the whole world once again.” The test noticeably came at a time of heightened international tensions surrounding the Russian-Ukrainian war, and has been harshly condemned by South Korea, Japan and United States. 

North Korea last tested miniaturised nuclear warheads in 2017, with U.S. intelligence assessments repeatedly indicating that it was capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on and ICBM to strike the United States. The possibility that Pyongyang could leverage the threat of further test launches to press Washington for a new round of negotiations, possibly leading to the relaxation of economic sanctions imposed through the United Nations Security Council, has been widely speculated.

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